Mindshift Exposure: an Outdoor & Trails test

The Mindshift Exposure is a sub-$200 “storm-resistant” shoulder sling bag for DSLR and Mirrorless Systems aimed at the active photographer.

Boasting of DWR water-repellent fabric, a tarpaulin bottom, sailcloth panels, and storm flaps, the Exposure is not your average, everyday bag.  It’s meant to be outside weathering the elements, doing hero-bag work.   At the same time, it can also hold a 13″ or 15″ laptop (depending on whether you go with the Exposure 13 or 15), a tablet, and all the gear you expect from your typical messenger bag like pens, cables, keys, and so-on.  It even has a luggage handle pass-through, allowing it to be connected to carry-on luggage.

Mindshift Exposure 15 at Zion National Park

I wanted to know how good of a bag the Mindshift Exposure is, so I tested it for over a week in Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona, AZ.  I used as my primary bag, tasked it with carrying all my gear for days on end, and gave it every job I normally assign to a backpack, including one I find of particular value: not killing me as I scrambled up steep climbs and narrow trails. Before we get to all that, though, let’s start with a little bit about the bag’s design.

Features and Design

The Exposure comes in two flavors: Exposure 13 and Exposure 15.  As I mentioned earlier, the 13 can hold a 13″ laptop while the 15 is designed for a 15″.

In terms of capacity, the Exposure 13 is designed for:

  • One ungripped body with a 24–70mm f/2.8 attached
  • 2–3 extra lenses
  • 10” tablet and a 13” laptop
  • Accommodates 70–200mm detached

The Exposure 15 is designed for:

  • One ungripped body with a 70–200mm f/2.8 attached
  • 2–5 extra lenses
  • flash
  • 10” tablet and a 15” laptop

The walls comprising the camera and laptop compartments are thick and well-padded.  Every zipper and loop feels designed to take a beating.  I appreciated the external flaps protecting the camera compartment from rain.  Like the rest of the bag, they have a strength to them and are not a mere marketing gimmick.  The Exposure does come with a rain cover for when you need to hunker down.

Also included with the bag are tripod straps, allowing you to attach a travel tripod to the bottom, and a removable cross-body stabilization strap that keeps the bag close to you as you move about outdoors.

I liked the shoulder adjustment strap.  It is a dream to work with.   There’s no fiddling with stretching out a loop inside a another loop against a piece of metal to adjust the length.  All you have to do to adjust the shoulder strap is flip the adjustment buckle up, move the strap, then flip the buckle down to lock it in place.  The metal hardware, by the way, is anodized and thus resistant to corrosion, a nice feature if your straps are constantly in mud or puddles.

Exposure 15 shoulder strap adjustment

Close-up of the shoulder strap adjustment.   The strap length is adjusted by flipping the buckle up, adjusting the length, then flipping the buckle back down

Another nice feature is that the bag is compatible with the Peak Design Capture Clip and the SpiderLight Camera Holster.  This will allow you quick access to your camera while on the move, and I like that Mindshift included this in the design.

Beyond the notable features are some standard ones, like a mesh water bottle holder that holds most 1 liter bottles and moveable camera compartment dividers to keep your your gear from banging around during transport.

In the Real World: Zion

The two shots below show my load-out at Zion.  I carried along my trusty Sony A7II, Zeiss 16-35 f/4, Zeiss 24-70 f/4, small first-aid kit, Vello wireless intervalometer, water bottle, walkie-talkie, Garmin etrex GPS, and my Induro travel tripod.

Tripod attached to the bottom of the bag.  The straps have a quick-release, allowing the tripod to be easily accessed.

The bag handled the day pretty well on flat trails, steep trails, and in areas where it would be subjected to water.   The one thing I was worried about was how well my shoulders would hold up with a single shoulder strap as compared to the weight balancing I’d get from a backpack.  The cross-body stabilizer strap did a very good, if not exceptional, job of weight distribution and kept the strap from digging into my shoulder.  On flat and medium slopes, the bag was excellent.  It was well-balanced, and the stabilizer strap kept the bag close to me.  I never felt like I had to reign the bag in as I turned my body.

A look down the steep slope of Zion’s Hidden Canyon trail.  Check out the portion of the trail on the top right of the image just around the corner from where I was standing.

The first “real” test was Zion’s Hidden Canyon trail, which goes up 850 feet in about one mile.   I made the stabilizer strap work, and I have to say it exceeded my expectations.  It was more than capable while heavily loaded in a difficult environment.  I really didn’t expect much here, but I was surprised.

The next test was water resistance.  I didn’t go mad here and jump into The Narrows with it, but I did take it to Zion’s Weeping Rock and let it get a bit of time under water.  Water is definitely not a big deal.  The fabric easily handled running water with no issues.

In the Real World: Antelope and Horseshoe Bend

Days 2 and 3 with the Exposure were spent running around Page, Arizona shooting at Upper Antelope and Horseshoe Bend.

The load-out:

Sony A7II with Zeiss 16-35 f/4 and A6000 with Zeiss 24-70 f/4

Man, was I glad to have both a wireless and an IR trigger that day!  There’s nothing like showing up at Upper Antelope and finding out the cable on your trigger is no longer working.  Have a backup!

Ok, back to the bag.  I used the Exposure to tote all my gear while in the 4×4 at Antelope and go on the short walk/hike to the Horseshoe Bend observation point.  The bag was a pleasure to use.  This was its sweet spot: outdoor/adventure work in short- to medium-duration outings.  It was fantastic, because it’s a lot smaller than a backpack and has a significantly lower profile.  It’s sleek and stays close to your body.  You can run with it if need be.  It’ll bounce a little, but I found that to be minimal, especially compared to a typical shoulder bag.

I have to say this was an easier outing compared to Zion and significantly easier than what was to come at Sedona.

Shooting Horseshoe Bend

In the Real World: Climbing Sedona’s Bell Rock

Your everyday messenger bag would be a hazard at Bell Rock, as it would be constantly shifting from side to side.  Bell Rock is not Zion’s Angel’s Landing, but it does have some steep drop-offs and can be deadly if you’re not careful.  It is definitely where you would typically use a backpack, but the Exposure 15 is what I took with me for the scramble up.

I used my typical load out here: Sony A7II, Zeiss 16-35 f/4, and  Zeiss 24-70 f/4.  The bag handled the terrain very well.  It never shifted or affected my center of balance.  It did what it needed to do: stayed out of my way as I climbed and gave me quick access to my gear when I stopped to shoot.

 

Climbing up Bell Rock is a lot of fun, but you do need to keep your eyes on where your feet are going.

 

You can’t beat the views on the way up.

Field Notes

The following are a few notes I collected as I used the bag.  They’re good things to keep in mind if you’re considering the Exposure:

  • The cross-body stabilizer can be moved, allowing the bag to be used on the left or right.
  • The camera holster pad (for the Peak Design capture clip or Spiderlight holster) is on the left side of the bag and will allow access to the camera when the camera is on your right shoulder.  It is difficult to get to the camera when using the cross-body stabilizer if you carry the bag on your left shoulder.
  • The water bottle can be difficult to get to when using the cross-body stabilizer when the bag is on your right shoulder, as the bag is designed to not move much when the stabilizer is in use.
  • I’d love to see a business card slot I can slip my card into in case the bag is ever lost.

Overall thoughts

Mindshift has made a great bag.  The Exposure is small, light, and remarkably stable, even when used on hikes or climbs.   Its sweet spot is short- to medium-range hikes.   Keep in mind you’ll have a limited amount of water with you when using the Exposure.  It’s not designed to be an all-day hiking bag but rather a versatile shoulder bag for outdoor work.   If that’s what you’re looking for, get the Exposure.  It will serve you well.

Where to buy:

B&H – $169.99

p.s. Here’s quick shot of Antelope.  I’ll be getting more images up on Instagram in next few days.

Sony A9 Review: A Defining Moment for Mirrorless Cameras

Sony A9 Review

Every once in a while a camera comes along that draws a line in the sand, redefines a segment, and marks a milestone in photography.  The first from-the-ground-up dSLR, the Nikon D1, was such a camera. Canon’s consumer-level digital Rebel was such a camera as was Canon’s 5DMKII with its breakthrough video performance.  Cameras like this don’t come along everyday, but when they do they mark a fundamental shift and a category maturity for a manufacturer.

Aimed at Sports and wedding photographers, the A9 is positioned to be a camera long-remembered by photographers as a defining moment for Sony and mirrorless cameras.   The list of specs is impressive:

  • 24 megapixel stacked full frame sensor
  • 693 phase detection autofocus points with 93% coverage
  • A shooting buffer capable of handling 241 compressed raw files or 362 JPEGs
  • 5-axis in body image stabilization
  • OLED viewfinder with 120fps refresh
  • 4K 24p full frame video

And that’s not all, the A9 has a silent electronic shutter, a highly performant autofocus system capable of 60 autofocus calculations per second, and every Sony fanboy’s favorite spec: 20 frames per second with no viewfinder blackout- making it faster than Canon’s 1Dx and Nikon’s D5.

Yet specs, however impressive they are, don’t make a camera.  I’ve had the chance to spend a good amount of time with the A9 and what follows are my impressions of using it day-in and day-out.

Dials and Controls
New Dial & Dial Lock
The first thing you’ll notice about the A9 is the addition of a two stacked dials on the left dedicated to burst mode and focus. This is a nice addition as it saves having to go through the fn options to set the burst and autofocus settings.  Both dials have a button lock you have to depress in order to change their settings.  The design works well, but I wish there was a more elegant way of locking the dials as I found the press-to-turn process a bit cumbersome.  It’s not that the implementation doesn’t work, it’s that it’s difficult to unlock and change settings without taking your eye off the viewfinder.  This is especially true of the AF selector which has a tiny push-button unlock mechanism.

Top view of the Sony A9 showing the newly added left dials for Autofocus and Burst mode.

 

AF ON and AEL Buttons
If there is one button I was happy to see it would be: AF ON.   Sure you can customize buttons on the A7 cameras to use rear AF, but you shouldn’t have to do that as it takes away from the camera’s customizability.

I personally have no use for the AEL button as I photograph everything on manual, but it is a good addition nonetheless and signals a new focus (no pun intended) on ergonomics from Sony.

While I liked the AF and AEL buttons, I did think they could have been more pronounced.   I felt they were a bit too small, and inset, and not as easy to depress or tactilely locate while looking through the viewfinder as they could be.  I also felt the AF ON button was a bit too close in proximity and tactile feel to the video recording button (I recorded a couple of nice videos when I thought I was focusing.  I also sadly managed to end a video I was recording when I thought I was focusing)  I hope Sony moves the recording button in future iterations and makes the AF button tactilely distinct.

Focus Joystick
The A9 has a joystick dedicated to setting the focus point.  This is a fantastic addition!  The joystick is exactly where it needs to be and its feel is perfect. The combination of AF ON and the focus joystick make for a much more streamlined shooting experience as you don’t have to move your fingers to all corners of the camera to set and achieve focus.  It’s awesome not to have  to hit the center dial button to move the autofocus point about as you do with the A7 line.

Back view of the Sony A9 showing the newly added AF-ON and AEL buttons and the focus point joystick

 

Usability
The Silent Shutter
The first configuration change I made with the A9 was disabling the AF beep as I hate hate hate having to hear a sound everytime the camera achieves focus.  Easy enough: go into the camera settings and turn off notifications.  With the “beep” disabled, I went to shoot, focused, depressed the shutter and….nothing.  The viewfinder didn’t blackout and I didn’t hear the shutter fire.  I had to stop and check to see if the camera actually took a photo.  That moment was a revelation!  You mean I never ever have to stop looking at my subject and, if I want it, I never have to hear a shutter?  That’s just plain awesome.  By the way, there’s a visual cue in the viewfinder indicating a frame was captured.  It’s easy to miss the first time you use the camera, but you quickly know to look for it.  Incidentally, you can enable a shutter audio sound if you want.

Menus
Sony’s menus have historically been a sore point for anyone switching from Canon or Nikon.   Sony cameras offer a lot of configurability, but their menus to date been anything but intuitive.  The A9’s menu remedies this by including a custom “My Menu” allowing you to add settings or functions you typically utilize.  This means you no longer have to hunt for the “format” menu item to clear your cards.

The Battery and Grip
I own no fewer than 5 batteries for my A7II and I always make sure they are charged before serious outings.  The batteries are small and I have to be cognizant of how much charge I have left.  For example, I always make sure I have a fresh battery to go just before sunset or sunrise shoots as the last thing I want is to miss a shot because I have to fiddle with the battery.

Fortunately, the A9’s battery is a significant step up in size and capacity from the A7 series’ W battery.  Also, Sony significantly reduced the A9’s power consumption compared to the A7RII.

The A7RII, for example, has a CIPA rating of 290 shots while the A9 clocks in at 480.  This is still significantly shorter than a 5DMKIV‘s impressive 900 images per battery through the viewfinder- though it should be noted that the 5DMKIV’s battery clocks in at 300 images using LiveView while the A9 can yield 650 images per CIPA standards.

One result of the larger battery is a wider grip.  I like the slightly larger form factor, but I’m sure there are those who disagree.  This is largely a matter of preference.  Either way, the A9 remains significantly smaller than its Canon or Nikon counterparts.

Viewfinder, Autofocus & Burst Mode
I don’t care if you shoot sloths or plain ‘ol concrete drying exclusively for your day job, nothing puts a smile on a photographer’s face like burst mode- and 20 frames per second sure does the trick!  It’s a blast hitting that shutter button, daring the A9’s buffer, and letting the camera fly.

The A9’s autofocus performance is impressive and the camera is, as Sony promises, stable throughout-  what this means is I didn’t get it to lock up on me.  Also, having no blackout in the viewfinder is fantastic as I mentioned previously.  It’s a nice-to-have when shooting slower action, but it’s a godsend when you’re trying to nail a composition during fast-action sequences.

I put the AF through its paces in three tests using a challenging subject: a hyperactive 9yr old cycling down a hill towards the camera (aka Jonah, my son).  I executed 3 separate tests using the A9 coupled to a Zeiss 24-70 f/4 lens.  The camera was set to AF-C and Lock-on AF: Flexible spot Medium.   Two of the tests were down the same hill while the 3rd was performed in an area with tree cover and spotty light in an attempt to challenge the AF system.  20 images from each sequence were placed in the galleries below.  Incidentally, I set the lens aperture to f/4 to ensure the resultant focus wasn’t due to depth of field.

AF Test 1

AF Test 2

AF Test 3

Overall the AF was solid. The keeper rate across the tests was very impressive considering the test involved a subject moving towards the camera.  I did have a few shots near the end of the sequences as Jonah moved close to the camera.  I believe this was due to the focus point shifting away from his face as he approached due to him being in close proximity.  Nonetheless, I feel comfortable wielding the A9 for its main calling: sports and action photography.

Video
This was a fun one.  I wanted to give the A9 a challenge and also use it in the wild – not in a controlled environment.  I wanted to “run and gun” with it and create a video.

Sony’s A9 setup for video with a Manfrotto monopod, shotgun mic, and headphones to monitor audio

As you might know, I’m traveling full-time across the country from Key West to Alaska over the next couple of years in an RV (I’m currently in Montana just outside of Yellowstone National Park and heading east through the summer to arrive in the northeast for the fall colors).  If you’re interested in the travel side of things, you can read more about life on the road at ChaseTheSky.com.   But I digress.  For the A9 video test,  I decided to document my wife Jenni’s first jump with SkyDive West Plains in Washington.

A bit of background on the footage: all the on-the-ground video was captured using the A9.  All in-air footage utilized a GoPro Hero 4 Black.  As it turns out, you can’t take along your own camera with a skydive crew without a significant number of jumps under your belt.  It’s also generally not advisable to drop a $4500 camera out of an airplane with someone who’s jumping out of an airplane for the first time (consider that a pro tip!)  Incidentally, Jenni and the A9 both survived the video.

Another note on the footage: I wanted to let the camera have control as I shot.  With the exception of my hitting the AF button from time-to-time, I let the camera manage video capture.  Additionally, I used a Rode on-camera shotgun mic for the audio (note: if you want to get the low-down on capturing audio, be sure to checkout my Microphone 101 post where I walk you through everything from using your earbud’s mic to a pro audio setup).

Alright, finally, the video is below.  Be sure stick around to the end for the outtake, you’ll get a kick out of it.

You’ll notice a short bit of the camera going out of focus at 1:20.  I had pressed the AF button to see what the camera would do.  As you can see, it sought to refocus.  I do think focus would have been fine had I left the camera alone.  Would it have been better for Sony to have designed the A9 to ignore my focus request?  I’ll say no.  I want to be able to focus as I want, and I’m glad I was not overridden by the camera.

You’ll also notice the camera went out of focus around 4:15 as the plane rotated off the ground.   This was my fault as I had set the focus point to the upper right hand corner of the viewfinder prior while waiting for the plane to taxi and I did not change the focus point during takeoff.  I don’t think I would have had focus issues had I used a wider focus area.  It was nice to see the A9 recover nicely and track the airplane as it moved past the camera in perfect focus.

I was also pretty impressed with the camera’s ability to focus on the two parachutes in the air against a blue sky.  I expected the camera to struggle here because the subjects were small, but I was happy with the results.

Overall on the video, and keep in mind I’m a photographer not a hardcore videographer, I was impressed with the A9‘s ability to focus during video and to handle shifts in dynamic range.  You’ll note several times during the in-car footage where the available light shifted, yet the A9 handled the changes well.

The Gestalt of it All
There is no doubt that the Sony A9 is an impressive camera.  The AF system is a solid performer even in low-light, and the high resolution no-blackout viewfinder delivers a low-friction shooting experience.

The improvements in battery life feel almost like a return to DSLR battery longevity and the new controls and menus make the camera more intuitive to use than Sony’s A7 line.

But specs, features, button placements, and the like only tell part of the story.  What really matters day-to-day is how does the camera feel.  Is it in your way?  Does it help you get the job done?  Is it easy?  Is it cumbersome?

All-in-all I’ve really enjoyed the A9 and have no hesitation recommending it- especially for wedding and sports photographers.  Yes I have quibbles with the AF ON button design and placement, but overall the camera is intuitive to use and it let’s me easily go about the business of capturing images.    You don’t have to work around it.  It works with you to let you do what you need to do.

Where to buy:
Sony A9 at B&H

Sample Images
Below are edited images created specifically for this review from a couple of nights in, and around, Seattle.

Seattle’s Space Needle at blue hour

 

Frank Gehry’s Museum of Pop Culture & The Space Needle

 

A look up at the Museum of Pop Culture

 

Alien Edifice: the Museum of Pop Culture

 

A reflection of the Space Needle at the Museum of Pop Culture

 

Snoqualmie Falls

Having 20 frames per second gives you the opportunity to capture the right moment. This, by the way, is my family Jenni’s skydive.  This is the relief after the fear shot (checkout how scared she was here)

A Swing over the Mountain

Jenni rides a swing over the edge e of the St. Ynez Mountains at the Ruins of Knapp’s Castle

I can’t adequately describe what an absolutely magical area of the St. Ynez mountains outside of Santa Barbara this is.  It starts with a walk overlooking the mountains on a dirt road to the ruins of Knapp’s Castle (a mansion abandoned after a fire in the early 20th century).  After the quarter-mile or so walk, off to the side of the mansion ruins, is this area with two rope swings.  We made it there perfectly at sunset- I couldn’t have asked for better light (timing shoots is something Jenni has been getting really awesome at recently!)

Everyone rode the swings while I did my camera thing to get this shot of Jenni swinging with abandon over the edge.

We stayed well past sunset until the clouds rolled in (we literally walked through the clouds to the top of the mountain back to car and drove down to our campsite.)

 

Vasquez Rocks

If you’ve seen Star Trek or Westworld you’ve seen these rocks.  They have been featured in Star Trek the Original Series (season 1, episode 18 “The Arena”) as well as in the 2009 film (the planet Vulcan).

More recently they were featured as a film location in episode 4 of HBO’s Westworld (“Dissonance Theory). It’s an awesome place to hike and hangout with a lot of short hikes and climbs featuring mountains in the background.

I’ve been at this location twice in the last week or so and may go there again.  There’s so much to see. I have a few more shots from here that I’ll be posting over time.

A Bridge in the Forest

It’s been a while since I’ve posted images as I’ve focused more on reviews and basically posted images on Facebook, Instagram, etc instead of here. I feel like I’ve been neglecting the blog.  Good news, I have a tons of images to post so strap in- a lot of images are on the way.

Our RV (aka battlestar) is currently in Soledad Canyon, California. Coming up are Santa Barbra, Joshua Tree and Las Vegas. So yep, more stuff coming (and that’s just the next couple of months; might even been heading to Yosemite in the fall/early summer)

While I’m in California, this image here is Paris Mountain, SC. I photographed it at the early stages of the trek way back in October. It was’t the image I thought I’d capture that day, but sometimes you just happen on a scene that’s the one.

 

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